Mask breaks given infrequently, despite implied message from Staples

Hannah Conn '23, Staff Writer

Photo by Hannah Conn ’23

The back-to-school environment has been a huge change for all of us, filled with excitement, well understood anxiety over reopening and most importantly, several safety precautions to keep the Staples community safe from COVID-19. Of course, the discomfort of wearing masks, walking down the one-way hallways and being split into two cohorts comes with additional pressures on the students and staff, but there are ways that such pressures can be eased. 

Mask breaks, for one, were promised as a solution to the increasing discomfort of wearing a mask at school for long hours. However, as we approach the end of our third week back at school, these breaks are scarce and rarely last for longer than a few minutes. Depending on the classes we’re in and the teachers we have, these breaks may happen every class, or end up being something the teacher never even comments on.

In the days leading up to the beginning of the school year, an email from the Staples Principal, Stafford Thomas, outlined the safety measures being taken and gave a fully detailed explanation of the cohort system and hybrid model that most of Connecticut has adapted to for the 2020-2021 school year. In the email, students were instructed to “bring two masks,” and it was stated that we would not be taking our masks off at any time, except for lunch and mask breaks that “teachers [would] determine the time & area for,” as shown in the image above.

Students receive limited and inconsistent mask breaks throughout in-class days. (Photo by Hannah Conn ’23)

Personally, there is only one period where my classmates and I are allowed to stand outside for a few minutes and catch our breath. This experience fluctuates between students, as some teachers do or do not honor this promise of a mask break. 

While classes on the second and third floor may have more difficulty getting outside, I believe there are ways in which students can safely distance themselves outside the classroom and throughout the hallways of Staples. 

Not only do the breaks let us take off our masks to breathe something other than our own recycled air, it allows us to survive the 80-minute class periods and split them into two parts. An hour and 20 minutes of the same subject, on top of wearing uncomfortable masks, is taxing and can take away from the central educational purpose of being back in school. 

I believe that teachers and staff must take initiative to bring each of their classes outside into the courtyard, hallway or other open area of the school for a mask break. With this, I feel that students will be able to relax more from the stress of long periods, while also catching their breath from wearing a mask the entire day. 

Coming back to school has been a challenge for me and I know I am not alone when I say that I am elated to be back, but students’ comfort should be taken into consideration, alongside our safety, as we progress through the rest of the year.